That’s Not My Name

Please welcome Bobbie Schaeperkoetter to the blog!

Maybe I’ve let myself be defined by the wrong names for long enough. And maybe you have too.

Unworthy.  Unloveable.  Unattractive.  Selfish.  Spoiled.  Out of touch with reality.  Irresponsible.  Snob.  Untalented.  Liar.  Cheater.  Judgmental.  Failure.  I’ve been called these names and many more.  These, and others, are words that I’ve heard spoken about me nearly all of my life.  They are words of hurt and pain.  They are words that cut deep.  They are words that I’ve felt have left a scar on my poor tender heart.  Sometimes those words were spoken by others.  Sometimes I just felt them because of a person’s attitude of actions.  Most often though, the words that have cut me the deepest, are the words that I’ve spoken to myself.  The worst names are the ones I gave myself.

This isn’t the regular state of my heart, but I have been my own worst enemy at times.  I’ve doubted my heart, my worth, my skills, my actions, my looks, my motives, and my talents.  I’ve focused on my negative qualities far more than my positives.  I have let fear and doubt rule me for so much of my life.  I have I’ve stood in my own way far more than anyone else ever has.  I’ve let my past, my failures, my mistakes, and especially my sins define me for far too long.  I’ve been a slave to the names.  I’ve often felt locked in the prison of these words.  I’ve let myself believe them.  I have believed that I am unworthy and unloveable.  I have believed that I am a cheat and a liar and a failure. 

And for some reason, I’ve never fought back against those names.  Maybe I kept letting myself be defined by those names because a small part of me believed each one of them for one reason or another.  Maybe it is because no one knows me like I know myself.  No one knows every detail of my past and every struggle that I have walked through or every mistake that I have made.  But just maybe,  I have listened to the lies that the enemy has whispered into my ear for far too long.

Maybe I’ve let myself be defined by the wrong names for long enough.  And maybe you have too.

This morning, I woke up to a text from a dear friend who is in the middle of a very difficult situation.  She is feeling defeated.  She is feeling defined by her circumstances and her situation.  She is believing the names.  She is believing the names that others have called her, but most often, she is believing the names that she has called herself.  

And my heart broke for her.  And it broke a little for myself because I have done the same thing so often.

I have so many friends and family members who are in the middle of very difficult situations.  Some are there as a result of their own choices but some are just a victim of circumstance.  Regardless of how they got to where they are, many of them have one common bond.  They’ve let the names they have been called define them.  

They have believed the lies too.  They’ve believed the lies that they are their circumstances or their situation or their mistakes.  They’ve believed the lies that they are their sin or their faults or their failures.  They’ve believed the lies that they are what other people have said that they are.  They have let those names define them just like I have.

That is not the case for them, it is not the case for me, and it is not the case for you sweet friend. 

                I am not unworthy, unloveable, unattractive, or untalented.  That is not my name.  I am fearfully and wonderfully made by a Heavenly Father who specifically designed me for a purpose and with a plan.   (Psalm 139:13-14)

I am not a cheater, a liar, or a failure.  That’s not my name.  I am redeemed and forgiven.  I am a child of my Heavenly Father and I am loved beyond measure.  He has taken my past and nailed it to the cross. (Colossians 1:14, Colossians 2:13-14, John 3:16)

 I am not selfish, judgmental, out of touch with reality, spoiled, or a snob. That’s not my name.   I am learning to walk in newness of life.  I’ve laid aside my old self and have been given a new heart.  The road may be a little bumpy and I may fail sometimes, but my Father is patient and loving.  (Ephesians 4:20-32, Ezekiel 36:26)

I am not those names that others have called me.  I am not those names that I have called myself.  I am not those names that the enemy has whispered in my ear.  I am not defined by my past or even my current situation.  And neither are you.  If we are a follower of Jesus, then those names do not define us.  His name does.

We are defined by a God who loves us more than we can even begin to fathom.   We are named by the one who calls us chosen, loved, redeemed, beautiful, precious, forgiven, and new.  Let go of those old names and embrace the name that Jesus has given you.

 

bobbie schaeBobbie Schaeperkoetter makes her home in Jefferson City, Missouri, with her high school sweetheart-turned hubby and her two handsome boys. She is a wife, mom, homeschooler, the Director of Ministry and Creative Branding for The Women In My World, and a part of the The Genesis Project Development Group’s production team. Bobbie blogs at bobbieschae.com.  Her writing can also be found at Grace Centered at http://www.gracecentered.com/.  and at Faith Filled Family magazine  www.faithfilledfamily.com .  She would love you to stop by for a virtual cup of coffee and a chat.

A Hairy Confession

The sun has come out and the daffodils are peeking through. On Sunday morning, in the scrambled few minutes between “here’s your breakfast,” and “we’re late for church—WHERE ARE YOUR SHOES?”, I pulled on a short skirt. If the daffodils can come out, so can my knees: that seems as good a rule for seasonal dressing as any.

We were nearly at church when I looked down at my knees, highlighted just so by a shaft of sunlight coming through the car window. I squealed at my husband: Oh nooooooo! Look at my hairy legs! With a short skirt! I didn’t even think about that! I can’t even remember the last time I shaved. Better make sure I don’t stand in the sunlight too much.

My level-headed husband, not given to fussing about fashion at the best of times, looked across and assured me: Nobody is going to comment on your legs.

Well, dear reader, let me tell you this. Not fifteen minutes later, SOMEBODY COMMENTED ON MY LEGS. He was wrong.

But actually, so was I. Because the person who commented on my legs did not say “whoa! you should be wearing a hazard sign with those spikes out in public!” In fact, she said, “have you been working out? Your legs look good.” I gaped at her fish-faced. I did not see that coming.

These are not my legs. They belong to Celine Dion. But you'll agree that these legs are GORGEOUS, aren't they? Even though the picture is... fuzzy.

These are not my legs. They belong to Celine Dion. But you’ll agree that these legs are GORGEOUS, aren’t they? Even though the picture is… fuzzy.

My legs were not the only prickly things I brought to church on Sunday. I brought prickly attitudes, sharp opinions, unkempt fears and a whole lot more, and these too went unnoticed by those who were there. Instead, we sang in worship and talked about what it means to be poor in spirit, a quality describes as “blessed” by Jesus.

Here is the truth: I would prefer to come to church all put together, both on the inside and the outside. I would prefer to be less confused, less hurt, less prideful. I would prefer to be less prickly, both in my heart and on my skin. I sometimes hope that the sun (and the Son) won’t highlight these areas of deficiency, otherwise others may notice.

But this is also the truth: my focus is all too often myopic and self-centered. I need others to help me see myself more clearly: to help me see the big picture, to put things in perspective, to trust in the healing work of community and the slow progress of redemption. Being aware of my shortfalls (even if they are as superficial as hairy legs: I concede this is utter vanity) is actually a GOOD thing when we gather as God’s people: it’s one step closer to humility. Sometimes it’s a good thing to come to church with prickly legs, or in the middle of heartbreak, or while you’re fighting with your loved ones, or right after you lost your temper and you haven’t quite been able to recollect your calm face. Maybe people will see our prickles. Maybe the light will highlight the crisis. But maybe… just maybe, our focus will be redirected. We’ll be humbled, and in that moment, find grace.

For those who think they have it all together have no need for Jesus, now do they?

What being a Special Needs Parent teaches me about #BlackLivesMatter

all lives matter. and all kids are special.  and what that means is sometimes we need to pay special attention.

all lives matter. and all kids are special.
and what that means is sometimes we need to pay special attention.

I have three children. They are all special. They each have needs. But I have one child who, according to Official Assessments, classifies as being a kid with “Special Needs”. I am amazed and so very grateful for the slew of resources and assistance that we receive for this kiddo. Both at home and in school, we have helpers and people-with-masters-degrees-and-clipboards, paying special attention to give extra support where it might be needed.

The goal of this all is not to give this child special treatment for the sake of special treatment. The goal of the special treatment is, actually, to smooth the way for all the kids in our family, and all the kids in our class, to be able to relate as healthily and equally as possible. There is an inequality of input (one kid gets extra support) to try and move our little home-and-school community towards equality of output: extra support for one so that the parents and teachers can try to give equal attention and time to all.

I mention this because I sometimes struggle with the label “special needs”, since it seems that by implication it might be suggesting that children without this label are neither special nor have needs. This is obviously not the case. To say I have a child with special needs doesn’t mean my other children—or any other children, for that matter—are any less special or have less important needs. To say I have a child with special needs is merely to identify that we need to pay attention differently to that kid because, without intentional acts of listening, observing, and intervening, they would flounder in the system, and both they and their classmates would suffer as a result.

I’ve been wondering whether the same should not be said about the #BlackLivesMatter conversation. To say that black lives matter is not to say that other lives do not. All lives matter, a truth deeply vested in our being made in the image of God and each person being uniquely imbued with dignity and strength. To say that black lives matter is to identify that we need to pay attention differently because, without intentional acts of listening, observing, and intervening, they flounder in a system which privileges whites, and both people of color and the world at large suffer as a result. 

Of course, there will be an angry reader who will write and accuse me of equating blackness with disability…. so before you send me that hate mail, let me say this clearly: that’s not what I’m saying. What I am saying is this: those of us privileged enough to not have to think about privilege (be it because of our whiteness, or being physically or mentally “typical” in the school system), may not appreciate how the system might work against you if you weren’t white, or weren’t able-bodied or neutrotypical.

And so to go the extra mile for “Special needs” kids doesn’t mean other kids aren’t special – it means they need special support so they can flourish alongside other kids, because all kids are special. And to say “black lives matter” doesn’t mean that all lives don’t matter, or that black lives matter more – it means we need to affirm something that has been lacking in people’s awareness and actions, to be active listeners and responders where we hear others’ stories – so that we all can flourish alongside one another, because all people matter.

God, Thou Art Love (Robert Browning)

God thou art love

God Thou Art Love

If I forget,
Yet God remembers! If these hands of mine
Cease from their clinging, yet the hands divine
Hold me so firmly that I cannot fall;
And if sometimes I am too tired to call
For Him to help me, then He reads the prayer
Unspoken in my heart, and lifts my care.

I dare not fear, since certainly I know
That I am in God’s keeping, shielded so
From all that else would harm, and in the hour
Of stern temptation strengthened by His power;
I tread no path in life to Him unknown;
I lift no burden, bear no pain, alone:
My soul a calm, sure hiding-place has found:
The everlasting arms my life surround.

God, Thou art love! I build my faith on that.
I know Thee who has kept my path, and made
Light for me in the darkness, tempering sorrow
So that it reached me like a solemn joy;
It were too strange that I should doubt Thy love.

by Robert Browning
illustrated by Corrie Haffly

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It’s Thanksgiving in the USA today: my favorite of the American holidays. Today, as on thanksgivings past, this day is attended by worries, but in the midst of it: we breathe our thanks.

Above all, I am thankful to be held in the hands of a good and faithful God. I don’t know how I would cope with the fear, injustice, uncertainty and evil in the world. To know that “I tread no path in life to Him unknown” makes all the difference.

I am more thankful for God sending Jesus than anything else this Thanksgiving, and every other day, too. He makes all the difference: I have known his light to “find me in the darkness, tempering sorrow so that it reached me like a solemn joy”. I hope you have, too.

 

As The Ruin Falls (CS Lewis)

as the ruin falls

As The Ruin Falls

All this is flashy rhetoric about loving you.
I never had a selfless thought since I was born.
I am mercenary and self-seeking through and through:
I want God, you, all friends, merely to serve my turn.

Peace, re-assurance, pleasure, are the goals I seek,
I cannot crawl one inch outside my proper skin:
I talk of love –a scholar’s parrot may talk Greek–
But, self-imprisoned, always end where I begin.

Only that now you have taught me (but how late) my lack.
I see the chasm. And everything you are was making
My heart into a bridge by which I might get back
From exile, and grow man. And now the bridge is breaking.

For this I bless you as the ruin falls. The pains
You give me are more precious than all other gains. 

by CS Lewis
illustration by Corrie Haffly

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I don’t feel competent or qualified to comment on most any of the poems I’ve shared this month, least of all one by CS Lewis.

But, these two thoughts come to mind:

  1. Like CS Lewis, God worked through the Anglican liturgy profoundly to shape my faith, and there is something for me in about starting worship in confession which focuses my attention on the magnitude of God’s grace. That Lewis starts with a recognition and confession of his own self-centeredness (and imprisonment in it) resonates deeply with me.
  2. “the pains you give me are more precious than all other gains”…. I see this poem as Lewis’ Philippians 3 proclamation: “I consider everything rubbish (crap!) compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus.” For once we start to appreciate what it means to know Him, only then can we bless him as the ruins fall.

Staying Power (Jeanne Murray Walker)

phone

Staying Power

In appreciation of Maxim Gorky at the International Convention of Atheists, 1929

Like Gorky, I sometimes follow my doubts   
outside to the yard and question the sky,   
longing to have the fight settled, thinking   
I can’t go on like this, and finally I say   
all right, it is improbable, all right, there   
is no God. And then as if I’m focusing   
a magnifying glass on dry leaves, God blazes up.   
It’s the attention, maybe, to what isn’t there   
that makes the emptiness flare like a forest fire   
until I have to spend the afternoon dragging   
the hose to put the smoldering thing out.   
Even on an ordinary day when a friend calls,   
tells me they’ve found melanoma,   
complains that the hospital is cold, I say God.   
God, I say as my heart turns inside out.   
Pick up any language by the scruff of its neck,   
wipe its face, set it down on the lawn,   
and I bet it will toddle right into the godfire   
again, which—though they say it doesn’t   
exist—can send you straight to the burn unit.   
Oh, we have only so many words to think with.   
Say God’s not fire, say anything, say God’s   
a phone, maybe. You know you didn’t order a phone,   
but there it is. It rings. You don’t know who it could be.   
You don’t want to talk, so you pull out   
the plug. It rings. You smash it with a hammer   
till it bleeds springs and coils and clobbery   
metal bits. It rings again. You pick it up   
and a voice you love whispers hello.
by Jeanne Murray Walker, Source: Poetry (May 2004)
illustration by Corrie Haffly

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My friend Aleah sent me this poem. It took her breath away when she first heard it, and it it did mine when I read it.

The Problem of Invisible Resistance

The Problem of Invisible Resistance

A few years ago, I started cycling.

And by cycling, I don’t mean the I-need-to-commute kind of cycling I’d done at school and doing college ministry, but the Now-I-will-wear-lycra-pants-and-shoes-that-clip-in type of cycling. To say that the learning curve was steep was putting it mildly. I still blush a little when I think of how many times I came to a stop and, having forgotten to unclip my shoes from my fancy pedals, realized too late I had no free feet to put down and so just keeled over onto the sidewalk. (It’s okay if you laugh. We all did.)

I remember taking my first longer ride out into the country: a 25 mile round trip, with a half-way stop at a cute coffee shop which was welcoming to smelly lycra-clad cyclists. The first two or three miles was gorgeous: an encouraging warm sun just rising, the breeze in my hair, the regular breathing that felt like life in my lungs. But a few miles in, I was suffering. I couldn’t figure out why: the terrain was flat, and I’d gone so much further than that on the stationary bikes in the gym before. Could I really be this unfit? Had my hours of training until now been so ineffective?

I nursed my disappointment quietly over my coffee while my riding pals chattered on, not sure whether I had the stamina to make it back. I gathered up my shards of courage and mounted my bike, prepared to make my excuses about why I couldn’t keep up with the others on the long ride home… but a few miles in was stunned to find that the trip home was going so much better than the way out had gone.

Really? Why? Why had it been so hard, and now it was going more smoothly? If anything, I’d expected the second half to be harder as the sun was higher and I was that much more tired.

I muttered to the much-more-experienced cyclist next to me: “the way home is going a little easier than I expected.” She laughed: “yup. that’s the difference a tail wind will make.”

A wind? I couldn’t feel it. I hadn’t felt it on the way there, and I couldn’t feel it on the way back… all I was aware of was the feel of the breeze as I biked… but as it turned out cycling directly into a 5mph headwind and then cycling back aided by a 5mph makes a huge difference to how much work it takes to bike. In fact, the difference isn’t even linear: it’s an exponential function (here’s a graph if you have a geeky itch that needs scratching). It requires DOUBLE the amount of power to bike at 20mph as it does at 15mph, just with regular wind resistance caused by the fact that we’re moving through air. If you have a 5mph wind against you at 15mph… well, you do the math.

As it turned out, the struggle was that much worse not because I was failing my training in ways I hadn’t even accounted for, but because I was meeting with real, albeit invisible, resistance.

I was chatting with a friend recently who has been feeling deeply discouraged in some areas of her life where she wishes she were just doing better/being stronger. She sounded exhausted, and was filled with self-reproach that the struggle she was going through was just further evidence of spiritual failure: “If I weren’t so evil, this wouldn’t be so hard to overcome,” she lamented.

But as she described her journey, I became more and more convinced that there was something spiritual going on, too. Christian theologians have long described the enemies of the soul as consisting of the world, the flesh and the devil. My friend was accounting for the world and the flesh in her struggle (and those are real), but it had not crossed her mind that there might be more at work there than she was giving it credit for.

The western church, for all its love of CS Lewis, does not have nearly a robust awareness of the spiritual realities of a dark and evil opponent in the life of faith as our older brother in the faith did. The Screwtape Letters are worth revisiting regularly not only for their written genius, but for the stark reminder that there are evil, personal powers at work to distract and discourage us. “We are not unaware of his schemes,” wrote the Apostle Paul. Sadly, that can often not be said of us.

The image of me, discouraged and beating myself up for my weakness on that first long bike ride, came to mind as I talked with her. Just like I sometimes do not take the invisible-but-real resistance of the wind into account when biking, so too we do not take the invisible-but-real resistance of the enemy into account, as he blows straight into our faces to slow us down and impede our progress.

And exhausted, we collapse and say to ourselves the words the Accuser (that’s what His name means, anyway) hurls at us: failure. weak. evil. quitter. laughable. why do you even bother?

But it helps to know that there is an enemy. It helps to know that the resistance we are feeling is real, and not imagined, and that the fight we are fighting is not just because our faith-muscles are weak but also because we are wrestling against a skilled opponent. Satan is the invisible headwind on our course, and he delights to remain unnamed and unnoticed so that we will lose heart.

But we will not lose heart. Forgetting what is behind, we press on; fueled by faith and reaching forward—ever onward and upward—to complete the race. We learn, as skilled cyclists do, how to keep your head down and cycle close behind others: for these things do a lot to decrease that relentless invisible resistance.

And so, together, we will go the distance. For we are not unaware of his schemes.